Turns out you can fight City Hall. After years of decay, a playground on the Upper West Side is renovated thanks to a resident who waged a solitary campaign for the city to fix it. Manhattan reporter Michael Scotto has the story.
On a typical late summer afternoon, basketball players fill the Bennerson Playground, a small park tucked in the middle of the Amsterdam Houses on the Upper West Side.
For residents of this NYCHA complex, it is a place to watch games and relax.
"This is beyond any thought or dream of mine," said one resident. "I'm really proud to say I live in this community. I boast about it now."
Until recently, there wasn't much to brag about. After years of heavy use by residents and little in the way of maintenance by the city, the playground had become an eyesore. That is, until a lifelong resident of the Amsterdam Houses stepped in and demanded the city fix it.
Andrew Blacks took a big interest in the playground after founding Positive Influence Basketball in 2005, a league aimed at giving area kids something to occupy their free time.
"I started Positive Influence because when I came home from college, there wasn't many things going on for the kids to do," said Blacks. "They were just hanging out, doing nothing with their time."
It wasn't long after he organized the league that he started lobbying Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer for money to fix the playground, a mission that Brewer, then the area's city councilwoman, adopted as a pet project. By 2012, she had secured much of the $2.7 million needed to upgrade the park, which hadn't been renovated in more than 30 years.
"It is a development that now has a center," said Brewer. "People come here often just to sit and watch. People from the neighborhood, not just the development."
It took more than two years to renovate the playground. In June, it reopened, complete with swings, slides, and sprinklers, not to mention two basketball courts and a scoreboard.
It is a big deal for Blacks, who helped grow the basketball league from 60 kids to 1,000.
"I feel energized," said Blacks. "I feel warm inside that it's something for the kids."
For the kids who now not only have a league to play in, but a playground that makes them feel proud.